Some of the most revered stories in our culture glorify violence. Many of our heroes, both fictional and real, are heroes because of their bravery in the face of violence and for their capacity to execute violence. The list of celebrated violent heroes is long and grows all the time: Luke Skywalker, Batman, Neo from The Matrix, the Black Panther, James Bond, Indiana Jones, John McClane from Die Hard, Tyler Durden from Fight Club, Wolverine, King Arthur, Aragorn, Odysseus, and Rambo.
In telling the stories of my personal involvement with violence, my intention is not to glorify violence, as is so commonly done in many of the movies we watch, the books we read, the stories we tell, and even the news we hear. My intention is to present a realistic portrayal of how both committing violence and being victimized by violence traumatizes and disrupts the lives and potentials of boys and men.
If anything, I wish to glorify forgiveness, compassion, and somatic awareness in this book.
I grew up in a middle-class family in a middle-class neighborhood in a small town in the mountains of British Columbia. I have a body with white skin and the privileges inherent with that. I didn’t grow up in a tough neighborhood of a big city or in a war zone. I’ve never been in military combat. I’ve never been a member of a gang or involved with organized crime.
Many people have witnessed, been a victim of, or committed far more severe violence and more frequent violence than I have. My involvement with violence is certainly less extreme than many have encountered, and yet I would still consider violence to have shaped my life in many respects.
Despite having grown up with a great deal of privilege in a seemingly safe neighborhood, I nonetheless experienced all of the violence described in this book. By the time I reached adulthood, I had a great deal of violence and trauma to heal. I have been doing my own healing work for two decades now to heal the impacts of violence within myself as completely as I can.
I readily acknowledge that many boys endure more extreme violence than I did, and I would expect that they also experience even more trauma. I feel compassion for these boys, I wish for healing and peace to reach every one of them, and I hope that this book can be of service to them.
Many men who have been involved in wars and gangs also have undoubtedly experienced much more violence than I have. For these men, I also feel compassion and hope that they can find healing and peace. I hope that this book can serve them also.
The stories that follow are ordered chronologically. They start with relatively minor violence during my childhood and become more severe in my later teen and early adult years.
May the following stories that I share in the spirit of healing, vulnerability, and transparency about my own history of and relationship to violence be a stimulus for your own process of healing.
Most of those who know me today would never guess that I have as much violence in my history as I do. Throughout my adulthood, I’ve hidden my history of both committing and being a victim of violence in order to be socially acceptable to others. With this book, I am “coming out of the closet” as someone who has both committed and been a victim of violence.
The first part of this book is composed of my own stories about violence. As transparently as I can, I share my recollections of the events and how I felt at the time. I also share as vulnerably as I can how I feel and what I think about the stories today. The names of the people involved in the stories along with key identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of the others involved in the stories, but in all other respects the stories are told accurately and completely to the best of my recollection.
Sharing my stories about violence is intended to bring male-on-male violence and its impacts on the lives of boys and men out of the shadows into clear light and open discussion.
I invite you to consider what similar experiences with violence you might have in your own history as you read my stories. My stories are intended as a stimulus for you to do your own reflecting and journaling about your own history of violence. Perhaps my stories can bring into your own awareness how you felt when you were a victim of violence or when you committed violence and how you feel about it now.
To spark your process of introspection, questions for you to reflect upon are provided at the end of each story. Please consider these questions as invitations and jumping off points for your own healing journey.
I recommend that you write your stories and your reflections in a journal. While narrating the events as you remember them is important and healing, even more meaningful and healing is describing how you felt, sensorially and emotionally, at the time when the incident happened and how you feel now as you write your story. In addition to your narration of the events, include these personal reflections in your journaling.
As you’re reading the stories in this book, be aware of your sensations and stay present in your body. If you find yourself triggered by a story, losing awareness of your body as you’re reading, or feeling overwhelmed by sensations or emotions as you read a particular story, please put the book down, take a break, and take care of yourself. Perhaps work with one of the body-based healing practices recommended in Part 2 of this book, or do whatever you know will stabilize you.
Before you come back to the book after something in it triggers you, consider for yourself what it was about the story that was so activating to you. When (and only when) you feel sufficiently resourced and you have had some insight into what was triggering for you about the story, you might try coming back to the story that triggered you and see what comes up the second time you read it. Working through a story in this way can be deeply healing.
If you find yourself extremely upset by a story or repeatedly triggered by the stories in this book or by a story in particular, this may suggest to you that reading the stories in this book is not supportive of your healing at this moment. If this is the case, I strongly recommend that you seek out a listening professional to support your process of healing.
By “listening professionals,” I mean social workers, psychologists, psychotherapists, counselors, and certain coaches. If you have not already worked with a listening professional and you are looking for one for the first time, a psychotherapist who has experience working with men and violence would be a good place to start.
Even if you are doing well with reading these stories and journaling about your own experiences, I would still recommend that you work with a listening professional if you have never done so before. It can be deeply healing to share your stories about violence with someone who can hear them, receive them, and accept you exactly as you are, without judging you, analyzing you, diagnosing you, or pathologizing you. This mode of listening is the way of the most effective and skillful listening professionals. The most healing aspect of sharing your stories of violence with another person is to bring the violence out of the shadows and into the light. We can transform our secrets and darkest moments into shared understanding and connection.
When you share your stories with your listening professional, I recommend that you bring an orientation towards exploring how you feel as you share the story, how you feel about what you shared, and how you remember feeling at the time the stories took place, where “feel” in this case means both your emotions and your sensations in your body. A good listening professional will prompt you with such questions as you’re sharing, but it can nonetheless be helpful for you to bring this “felt-sense” orientation to your sessions yourself.
This book can be read and explored alongside doing work with a listening professional or as a healing guide and resource on its own, but it is not intended to be a replacement for working with a listening professional.
If you have issues with anger management and are at risk of perpetrating violence in anger, please seek anger management training and professional support. While this book is intended to enable men to heal from violence to much deeper levels than just managing their anger, a book is not a substitute for anger management training when there is any risk of violence being perpetrated.
When I was thirteen and being severely bullied and beaten on a daily basis after school, the violence that was inflicted upon me leaked out through me on to my little brothers at home.
My younger brothers are twins, almost seven years younger than me. As we were growing up, they were sufficiently distant from me in age that we rarely had conflicts. From when they were first born, I enjoyed playing with them, and we had a lot of fun together. I was generally gentle with them and cared about them.
The period when I was being severely bullied at school was an exception.
Just as I was held down on the ground and given noogies by the bullies at school, I did the same to my little brothers, who were then six years old. I justified this in my victimized, thirteen-year-old mind by believing that noogies would not cause any long-term physical injury to them, even though I also knew that noogies could hurt a lot.
I even told myself that because I was committing much less severe violence against my brothers than what I was capable of doing or than what was being committed against me at school, I was actually being kind to them for inflicting “only” such “mild” violence as noogies upon them. I found a way to tell myself that I was being a good big brother for giving them noogies, even as I savored the power that I felt by inflicting violence upon them.
While I don’t believe that the noogies I gave to my brothers caused any lasting physical damage to them, I undoubtedly caused them physical pain, fear, and anguish. Some of the trauma that I was experiencing at school traveled through me to my little brothers. Having been traumatized myself, I inflicted the trauma on to them as well.
Today, I feel remorse for having given noogies to my little brothers. They are both among the people about whom I most love and care, and I feel regret that I was violent with them in this way.
I imagine that much of the bullying that I experienced at school was actually trauma and violence passing through the bullies to me from those who had inflicted violence upon the bullies, in the same way as the violence and trauma passed from the bullies at school through me to my little brothers.
Perhaps those bullying me were experiencing or had previously experienced violence and trauma at the hands of their parents, older siblings, other relatives, babysitters, teachers, or others at school.
Perhaps all of us were caught in a web of violence that came from the distant past. The pattern of violence passed through each of us and left trauma in its wake. As each of us became a victim, each was primed to become the perpetrator of another act of violence to create another victim, continuing a cycle of violence and trauma that stretched back through generations.
The victim of violence and the perpetrator of violence become one and the same. They are different sides of the same coin.
This perspective on the repeating cycle of violence elicits compassion in me for those who bullied me, because they may have themselves experienced much of the violence that they inflicted upon me. It invites me to feel compassion for my brothers, the victims of my own bullying, and for myself, both for the violence I experienced as a victim and the violence I committed.
From this perspective, there’s no such thing as simply healing our own trauma and violence. When we do our own healing work, we’re also helping to break inter-generational cycles of trauma and violence for the benefit of everyone, so that the violence of men can transform into the peace, compassion, and kindness of men.
While I was in the process of writing this book, Russia invaded Ukraine. The severity of the violence committed against the Ukrainians went far beyond the severity of any violence described in this book or that I have experienced personally.
The relative mildness of my own experiences with violence compared to what happens in war caused me to question what place this book has. After considering this question carefully, I decided that sharing my own stories of violence through this book is more urgent than ever. As a result of the war in Ukraine, I see even more clearly the importance for all men who have had any involvement with violence to heal their trauma from violence and their impulses to commit violence of any severity.
I suspect Vladimir Putin is committing against the Ukrainian people some version of the violence of which he was a victim at some point in his life, though I have been unable to find any documented evidence of this. Without knowing how to heal or deal with his own trauma within himself, he is relieving the tension and uncomfortable sensations of his trauma by inflicting violence against others, just as I did when I gave noogies to my little brothers after I received noogies from the bullies at school. Putin’s violent impulses are being expressed against the entire country of Ukraine, with Ukrainian soldiers, Ukrainian civilians, and Russian soldiers all the resulting victims.
The violence of a bully on the playground and the violence of a world leader ordering humans to kill humans in another country have much in common in terms of the impulse to commit violence, the lack of regard for the life and experience of other humans, and the trauma caused to the victims. They differ mainly in terms of severity and scale.
While ending and preventing wars and other severe forms of violence has great urgency, I believe the most effective way to prevent violence in the long term is by each of us as men healing the violence that lives in our bodies and minds at whatever scale that violence exists in us. By healing the violence within ourselves, we assure that we will not re-enact the prior violence with which we have been involved, whether we were the victim or perpetrator. We can heal into living our lives on a foundation of peacefulness, compassion, and care instead of aggression and fear.
To transform our planet into a peaceful, sustainable place for humanity and all of life to thrive for millennia to come, we need for men to heal the traumas that live in their bodies as a result of violence both committed and experienced. Only this can end the cycles of violence that are being passed across generations.
Doing this healing work is our greatest responsibility as men who have violence in our pasts.
Healing the violence within ourselves can be challenging in the culture in which we live. Men who commit violence, especially those who do so in state-sanctioned combat, are often glorified and celebrated in society for their courage and sacrifice. From my perspective, a man’s willingness to do the deep work and vulnerable self-reflection in order to heal his emotional wounds from his involvement with violence demonstrates far greater courage and deserves deeper reverence than a man’s actions in the face of violence.
We need to establish new standards for what is courageous and celebrated in men. We need to revere introspection, self-awareness, self-soothing, healing, forgiveness, compassion, kindness, and love.
It is up to you as a man to heal within yourself the violence that you have committed and experienced, not only for your own benefit but for the benefit of all men, all of humanity, and all of life on earth.
May those of us alive today be the ones to end the inter-generational patterns of violence among men and to create a new paradigm of what it means to be a man. May peace, balance, care, love, and compassion be the foundation of this new paradigm. May our new heroes be those who have the courage to face themselves and to heal.
This all begins with you doing the work to heal the impacts of violence and create peace within yourself.
This book is intended to support your healing work using the three pillars of healing violence: telling your stories, somatic (body-based) healing, and contemplative practices.
1. Telling Your Stories
Telling your stories enables you to have more awareness of your history, the context for who you are today, and the choices and forces that shaped you. Telling your stories brings what has been hidden by shame and fear in the depths of your psyche into the clear light of adult rationality, present-moment sensations, and the healing power of awareness.
You can tell your stories by writing them in a journal or by working with a listening professional. As well as creating a narrative of the events that unfolded, it is essential for you to also track how you felt, emotionally and sensorially, as the events unfolded and how you feel in the present moment as you tell the story.
2. Somatic Healing
Through somatic healing, you become more aware of your body and its unfolding sensations. You can become aware of the patterns of tensions in your body that are the aftermath of violence, which enables you to create new patterns. You give opportunity for the sensations that arose and got stuck during violence to be felt, to run to completion, and to release. You learn to regulate your nervous system with greater balance.
3. Contemplative Practices
In contemplative practices, you reflect upon yourself and your past actions, and then invite forgiveness of and compassion for yourself and for those who committed violence against you.
Part I of this book shares my personal stories of my involvement with violence and invites you to reflect upon them to stimulate you to share your own stories, either by journaling or by talking with a listening professional.
Part II recommends and explains some somatic healing practices that enable new patterns of freedom and ease in the body. Historic patterns and tensions in the body associated with violence can reach completion and release.
Part III recommends and guides you through some contemplative practices that are intended to cultivate compassion and forgiveness.
I bow to you for your courage and care to be here reading this book. You are the man the world needs right now. Let’s heal together.
 Merriam-Webster defines noogies as, “the act of rubbing one's knuckles on a person's head so as to produce a mildly painful sensation.” This definition seems inaccurate to me, because noogies can be given hard enough and for long enough that the sensation can be extremely painful: noogies can go far beyond “mildly painful.”